Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
Callum and Beefy edge inside the office and shut the door behind them.
“Hey man,” Callum greets. “Bumped into this ugly fucker on my way in, and he broke the news.” He jerks his head toward the common room. “Looks like they already know too.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I let them all know.”
Beefy pulls the single seat out from the far side of my desk and lifts his eyebrows at Callum.
“No, you have it.” Callum leans a shoulder into the wall by the door and jerks his chin at the chair. “Take a load off.”
The past three years have been kind to Beefy. He had a health scare that placed him in hospital for a solid six weeks, and when he came out he was two-stone lighter, thanks to their restricted diet. Either the big guy decided that was one scare too many, or he figured he’d keep on with what the hospital had started—whatever it was, he’s now a third of the man he was, and if a stranger were to see some before and after pictures, they’d struggle to believe they were of the same guy.
“What did Apex have to tell you?” I ask as he takes the seat.
Beefy sighs and leans forward, his elbows on knees. “He more or less gave me an instruction.”
“To make sure you become the president in his place. As much as it pained him to say, he has nothin’ but respect for what you’ve been doin’.” He shakes his head, laughing quietly. “Don’t think he had anything to worry about, though. I’d be surprised if anyone contested it.”
“I don’t want it,” I blurt.
“Hey?” Callum asks, pushing off the wall. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t want the role.” Both men stare at me as though I’ve grown an extra ear on my forehead. “I did my piece fillin’ in while he was sick. I want a break.”
“Why?” Beefy asks, his brow furrowed. “You’re good at what you do.”
“Maybe so, but I don’t want to be doin’ what I’m doin’ anymore,” I snap.
They sit and stand in silence as I run both hands over my head in an attempt to gather my shit before I go right off at them. What can I say without coming off as moody and whiny as a premenstrual woman? I’m tired, the stress of the job eats at what small amount of sanity I have left, and I’m ready to storm out my office door and tell the club that they can all get fucked and learn to look after themselves.
I thought my purpose in life was to help others, and at first it was. I got a thrill seeing the efforts of my hard work pay off; I got a buzz each time somebody thanked me for a good change around here that I was directly responsible for, but now? Now I wonder when the hell it’s going to be my turn. When the fuck is anyone going to help me?
“Who else do you propose?” Callum asks. “Name one other officer on that board who the majority are goin’ to vote for over you.” He flashes a grin at Beefy. “No offense there, big fella.”
“None taken.” Beefy narrows his gaze on me. “You put somebody else in the role and we have to wait another six months for them to get a hang of the ropes around here.” He shakes his head, scowling. “You’ve finally got this club to a better place, King. Why take us off this path when it’s doin’ so much good for the people around here?”
A good place
. If only he knew. I’m juggling fire, and quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of being the only one burnt. All I can do to reply is shake my head and look to the desk between my hands.
“Come on,” Callum urges. “You a man of the club, or what?”
I snap my gaze to his, daring him to question my loyalty again. “What do you fuckin’ think?” I’d die for the Aces. Fuck, I’ve already given up my fucking family for these bastards and let the only woman I’d have as my old lady walk away with my kid so that they could get a nice peaceful existence.
The truce between the Fallen Aces and Carlos is intact, and I’d be an idiot not to realize that it’s a direct result of keeping Elena out of it all. He’s the kind of guy to get a sick thrill out of seeing that he’s not the only one who’s lost her. He’ll be enjoying the fact I’m suffering without her, and if I brought her back into the mix I could guarantee our agreement would be out the window. Carlos isn’t a man to uphold a gentleman’s agreement out of honor if it doesn’t favor his interests.
I’ve given it all up for these assholes, and what do I get in return? Pressured into a leadership role I’m not so sure I’m cut out for anymore.
“I need a break. This shit is killin’ me, guys.”
“So pack your fuckin’ saddlebags and fuck off for a week, a month, whatever,” Beefy snaps. “Go sing
with a bunch of freakin’ hippies if you must, just come back refreshed and ready to do what you were fuckin’ born for.”
I stand with a growl and push my chair back. “I’m out. This conversation’s goin’ nowhere.”
Both men watch me as I step past them and cut a path through the grieving club members to get to my bike. I need out. I need fresh air. I need a change of scenery.
Fuck, I do need a holiday.
I just need to get away.
My joints pop and creak as I stretch out in my position on the sofa. Dante is curled up at my feet, glued to the television. We finished his homework without me losing myself to my thoughts again, and after dinner I decided to reward him with his choice of movie.
I should have known it would involve a ton of gun fights and car chases . . . if only the kid knew who his mother had been in another life, we wouldn’t have to spend part of the grocery money to rent him a dramatized version of the things I’ve seen and done. I could entertain him with these kinds of stories for free.
He tips his head to the side and rests it on his palm, his elbow propped on the arm of the sofa. His bright eyes track the movements on the screen, absorbing every last detail of the story to tell me again in two days from now on our way home from school. Being so young, his mind is a sponge; he remembers everything. Except his father.
I draw a sigh and uncurl my legs, ready to stand, when there’s a knock at the door.
Who on earth is visiting us?
I make my way over and check Dante as I go. He’s still lost in another world, oblivious to the fact we have a visitor.
The chain makes a light rattle against the wood as I secure it into the slide. I crack the door open and peer out at the man who stands on our stoop.
“Evening.” Our stalker fidgets with his hands, turning side-on to check the street behind him.
“What do you want?”
“Pleasant wee thing, aren’t you?” He laughs forcibly. “Got some news for you.”
“Your lost lover phoned me tonight.” He pauses to lean forward and check both ways again.
I find myself looking down the street also, put off by his nerves. “And?”
“He asked for your address.”
“Did you give it to him?”
The man lifts an eyebrow. “Of course. Thought you might like to know.”
I don’t get a chance to thank him. He leaps the two low steps in one long stride and drops onto our front path, hustling to the side of the road and straight into his waiting car.
I shut the door and turn around to rest my back against it, my palms flat to the cool wood.
After all this time, after tracking me for as long as he has, why now? I close my eyes and shake away the paranoia that builds.
What if Carlos knows? What if our lucky streak has run out?
“Yeah?” I drag a palm over my face and suck in a deep breath.
“Could you grab some more popcorn while you’re up?”
“Sure,” I say with a laugh, loving how easily Dante can ground me, give me purpose and pull me out of my thoughts.
I’m worrying about things that have passed. If Carlos wanted to come after me, it wouldn’t have taken him six years to do it. Logic tells me he’s moved on to his next gullible woman, found another thing to play with.
If we were to cross paths, however, I know it’d be a completely different story.
I leave Dante on the sofa and retreat to the privacy of my bedroom. With my legs crossed, I sit on the bed and scroll through Facebook, looking for any trace of the only people besides King I’ve ever trusted: Sully and Maria. The same profile as always comes to the top of the search list. It looks as though it could belong to Maria, but the details are private and all her photos are blocked. I’ve never been brave enough to send a request or a message through in case it’s not her, in case it’s a honey pot left by Carlos to lure me in my own sweet time.
Sully is untraceable as usual
othing resembling the man exists. I Google both names, for what end I don’t know. They’d hardly be advertising under a website where they were.
I toss the phone aside and flop back on the comforter to stare at the ceiling. I’ve thought about them so many times since I left Carlos’s house. Wondered where they are, what they’re doing, if they even got out.
Patting the bed beside me, I find the phone and bring it back up over my head. King’s profile isn’t so hard to find. He keeps it under his given name, but has his road name in parenthesis as well. I hover over each familiar image, sighing at my own ridiculous weakness. I’ve resisted the urge all this time, stayed away and never gone as far as to type a singular letter of his name into the search bar. But one tip-off that he knows where I am and the curiosity has killed the cat.
What does he look like now? Has he changed much? The albums are filled with Harleys, images shot at rallies, people tagging him in their Instagram pictures of empty bottles on a table after a hard night out—random things that explain his life, but not how he is.
Why am I torturing myself with this?
Because you’re curious.
Why has King asked for my address now? Six years I’ve stayed away; I think it’s fairly clear that I don’t intend to change my mind on keeping Dante away from club life. Dante is safe. Dante is happy. I’m not about to risk that.
But Dante also needs to make up his mind for himself on whether he wants King as a part of his life or not. The only way I’d let it happen is if King cut all ties to the shady world he lives in—the world I fought to get away from. But perhaps that’s not my decision to make anymore?
King belongs where he is. The Fallen Aces are so much a part of his makeup that I don’t think he’d be half the man I know if I took that away from him. Likewise, what if I’m restricting the man Dante is growing to be by not allowing him to know his father?
I’m so damn confused on what’s right.
I set the phone down and lie back to stare at the ceiling. I try to doze off, but my mind has trouble letting the PI’s visit go. One simple warning, one little bit of information, and the unanswered questions flow thick and fast. God help King if he does show up, because there’s a hell of a lot I have to ask him.
Dante watches the movie through to the end and then stops in for a cuddle before he takes himself to bed. He never asks who our visitor was, seemingly not picking up on my unsettled behavior. I tuck him in—a habit I can’t break—and then load up the clothes washer for a distraction. I set to cleaning up our dishes from the evening next when a low resonance catches my attention. Paused in the middle of the kitchen with a dish towel hovering over a plastic bowl, I still my breathing and listen intently as the rumble grows.
It can’t be—not this soon. Convinced he wouldn’t have ridden all the way here straight after contacting the P.I., I slip into a state of denial, busying myself with the last of the dishes that need to be dried. My ignorance lasts all of twenty seconds before the rumble is a chest-shaking growl that I can’t deny.
Damn it all, I’m going to be sick.
I move to the cupboard . . . and realize it isn’t where the tumbler in my hands goes. I carry the cup across the room to the shelves above the cooker . . . and stare at the things in the cupboard before my addled brain remembers what the hell I’m doing. I place the plastic tumbler with its peers, and then turn in circles, trying to work out what the hell to do next.
Oh my God, how do I look?
I’d thrown my comfiest sweats on to have a night in with Dante.
The engine cuts out as I sprint down the hallway and hang a sharp right into the bathroom. The fluorescent light is unforgiving on my complexion as I stare in the mirror in horror. “Shit, damn it.” I swipe up my foundation brush and squeeze the hell out of the tiny bottle that’s pretty much empty.
There has to be something in here.
The container is a mangled mess by the time I’ve bled it dry of everything I can. I’m leaned over the counter, fingers pulling my lower lid down as I swipe a pencil quickly over the rim, when he reaches the door.
He knocks twice, solidly.
My hands flap frantically beside my face as I scan the counter for my brush, and then knock the toothbrush holder onto the floor with a loud clatter as I grab it. Pulling my hair into a ponytail in record time, I rush down to the door and take a moment to breathe, to gather myself, and put on my usual resting bitch face.
He can’t know what he does to me . . . even when I haven’t seen him for more than half a decade.
I stare at the badly painted timber door, the only thing separating the two of us after all this time. Pushing up on my toes, I cautiously put one eye to the peephole and curse the fact I never replaced the porch light when it blew last month. A mop of blond hair, darkened by the night, covers his face. It’s longer, he’s let it grow, and because of that I can’t see his eyes as he looks down to his feet, just his trademark beard and full lips.
I step back and drag a deep breath in before shooting my arm out and taking the handle in my grasp.
Get your shit together, woman. He’s just a man.
My grip on the door is the only thing that keeps me on my feet.
He’s not ‘just a man’—he’s a man who’s aged well.
Dark green eyes stare at me in the light that spills from over my shoulder out to where he stands. The seconds stretch.
“Do you have a habit of turning up at people’s houses this late?” I snap.
There, that should do it.
Short, snappy, and exactly what he’ll probably expect of me.